BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Signaling the importance they gave to the topic, three U.S. cardinals offered a briefing Nov. 14, 2011, on efforts to expand and strengthen the Church's post-abortion healing ministry, Project Rachel.
Cardinals Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and Donald W. Wuerl of Washington reported on the work of Project Rachel during the first day of the Nov. 14-16 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
Women who have had abortions, as well as the men and parents who might have encouraged it, "need to know that God forgives them and that all is not lost," said Cardinal O'Malley, who described Project Rachel as "one of our best pastoral initiatives."
Cardinal DiNardo said the "death toll" since abortion was legalized in 1973 is 53 million in the U.S. alone, with an estimated 35 million women having undergone abortions since that time. He said about 10 million of those women were Catholic, as were an unknown number of the fathers and grandparents of those lost children.
Those abortions have left "awful wounds," he added, with many people despairing "of being ever forgiven by God."
But he called such a view false and even dangerous, "because it discourages women and men in need of God's forgiveness from seeking the pastoral care" that is available to them.
Cardinal O'Malley noted that most U.S. Bishops have granted faculties to their priests to lift the Church sanctions associated with abortion, so that there are "no additional steps needed to be restored to full communion with the Church."
Cardinal Wuerl offered his fellow Bshops information about new resources available in English and Spanish "to help Dioceses build and strengthen their Project Rachel ministry."
These include a new manual for priests, developed jointly by the USCCB secretariats on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and on Pro-Life Activities; new outreach materials from bulletin inserts to billboards; and the relaunch of an expanded website, http://hopeafterabortion.com.
Cardinal Wuerl said Bishops must work to find "ways that pastors and all of us can transform the parish environment to one where people know they are safe to come forward and seek forgiveness without the risk of public condemnation."
At a briefing for the media about Project Rachel the next day, Vincent Rue, director of the Institute for Pregnancy Loss, was among speakers describing their encounters with women who have had abortions and others who were affected by abortions. He said the effects on people can be long-lasting and pervasive.
Rue was among the first therapists -- in the 1980s -- to point to post-abortion trauma as a psychological condition, which also impacts men whose wives, girlfriends, daughters or friends have had abortions.
Marianne Luthin, director of the Pro-Life Office of the Boston Archdiocese, described Diocesan-level ministry, reaching out to people who have been affected by abortion. While professional counseling is warranted for some people, a major part of the ministry "is just listening," she said.
Susan Wills, assistant director of education and outreach for the USCCB's pro-life secretariat, made note of a variety of pamphlets, online information and other resources to help people learn about the consequences of abortion and to direct people to Project Rachel programs and other types of assistance.
By Nancy Frazier O'Brien. Contributing to this story was Patricia Zapor.
Project Rachel is a ministry to help women and men who suffer emotionally or spiritually because of an abortion. Lay counselors, lay volunteers, deacons and priests are available to work with post-abortive women and men. For more information about Project Rachel in the Diocese of Raleigh, go to www.projectrachelnc.org, or call 919-852-1021, or e-mail email@example.com. All contacts are strictly confidential.